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What are the risks of letting kyiv hit Russia with Western weapons ?

Photo: Anatolii Stepanov Agence France-Presse Two Ukrainian soldiers prepare their artillery in the kyiv region, January 2024, almost two years after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Didier Lauras – Agence France-Presse in Paris

Posted at 1:09 p.m.

  • Europe

This is the latest red line that Westerners could, like the previous ones, end up crossing. Ukraine urges its allies to authorize it to strike Russian territory with their weapons, provoking a cacophony favorable to Moscow in response.

The subject deeply divides support for Kiev, to the point of sometimes leading to contradictory declarations within the same country.

“We see that there is no consensus on this issue in the Western camp,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted on Tuesday on the Izvestia television channel.

He castigated the “hotheads in the West who make absolutely irresponsible provocative statements”, against “those who wonder whether it is necessary to go further in the escalation”.

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The discord

NATO is pushing Western capitals to lift restrictions that “tie the hands behind the backs of the Ukrainians,” in the words of its Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg.

But the chancelleries remain divided, the most reluctant – Rome and Berlin in particular – brandishing the risk of escalation, of extension of the conflict, with the implicit risk of the use of nuclear weapons by Vladimir Putin.

History testifies, however, that military aid from one power to another has never led to its entry into a conflict, according to military historian Michel Goya.

In addition, Western weapons have already been used on several occasions against Russian territory, recently against the city of Krasnodar (west), according to several Western sources.

Moscow “asserted that Crimea [annexed in 2014, editor’s note] was untouchable. The Ukrainians hit it with American weapons and nothing happened,” the former French colonel told AFP.

Ukrainian frustration

The stakes, for Kiev, are fundamental with the Russian offensive in the north which threatens Kharkiv, Ukraine's second city.

The Ukrainian army has fewer soldiers and fewer munitions than its enemy. But could push it back with modern weapons giving it precision and long range.

kyiv “complains that the limitations of the allies facilitate the Russian ability to gain a strategic advantage, operational and tactical”, retired British General James Everard, former deputy supreme commander of NATO in Europe, told AFP.

Because the Russian offensive is being orchestrated from across the border. Moscow moves troops, has batteries, takes off its planes in enviable security conditions.

kyiv has long aimed at the rear of the front, argues Ivan Klyszcz, of the International Center for Defense and Security in Estonia. Strikes “essential to wear down enemy forces, disrupt supplies and logistics chains, engage in counter-artillery and disrupt command.”

But the question “ is whether these strikes should also occur inside Russia.”

A recurring process

Since the start of the war, Western hesitation has already been observed for long-range missiles, heavy tanks and fighter planes.

Whenever kyiv calls for the use of Western weapons, the Westerners initially refuse. Then Ukraine points the finger at certain chancelleries, which end up giving in. In the meantime, precious time was lost.

“In retrospect, we say to ourselves that if they had given up from the start, it would have been more effective,” notes Michel Goya , emphasizing that “international law authorizes the attacked country to strike the aggressor country on condition of respecting humanitarian law.”

General Everard deplores that the leaders Western countries are “risk-averse, financially constrained and so self-deterred by Russia.”

The situation is all the more complex because it is not NATO that decides, but each country via bilateral agreements. “This produces a heterogeneous set of freedoms and constraints that are difficult to interpret.”

Next step: men

The next file, already on the table, concerns the sending of Western soldiers to Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron opened the debate at the end of February by refusing to rule out the option.

He was initially coldly received before seeing allies — Czech Republic, Poland, Baltic States in particular — join it. And some observers consider that the question is no longer if, but when, European soldiers will be deployed.

“President Macron's breaking of the taboo has weakened Russian deterrence,” believes Ivan Klyszcz, “with many allies now raising the possibility of a form of ground presence” for technical assistance or training.

And if the option may put off some Europeans, many observers argue for maintaining strategic ambiguity, which consists of hiding from one's enemy what one is not ready to do.

“Publicly excluding the presence of Western troops in Ukraine makes no sense […]. The mere possibility is one of the Kremlin's greatest fears,” said Keir Giles of the British think tank Chatham House.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116